Windows 9: ten ways for Microsoft to save Windows

Windows 8 wasn’t as popular as Microsoft would have hoped, though it’s repaired some of the damage with Windows 8.1 and its first Update. With Windows 9 on the horizon, we’ve put together our wish list of what needs to be improved from Windows 8

Play in the sandbox

Darien Graham-Smith, deputy editor: “One of the best things to come out of Windows 8 is a properly sandboxed approach to software. Tablet-style apps in the Windows Store are, by default, unable to access your hard disk (except for their own private data); nor can they directly access your hardware, interface with other programs or communicate over the network. Where a program needs permissions to work, these can be granted very narrowly – a music player, for example, can be given access to your music library, while remaining locked out of your Program Files folder. The presumption towards minimal access makes it difficult for a tablet app to mess up your system, or compromise your privacy.

“The interesting part is that the sandboxing mechanism (called AppContainers) isn’t technically limited to tablet apps: it’s perfectly possible to write desktop applications that run in a sandboxed mode. Microsoft has yet to push developers towards doing so, but I’ve high hopes that Windows 9 will see a major shift towards sandboxed desktop software. Perhaps the OS could default to a mode where sandboxed apps must be explicitly authorised to run. For individuals, a move towards sandboxed software would slash the risk of having your computer hijacked by a malicious or badly written program. And in business, it could actually give employees more freedom: companies could safely allow users to download and install sandboxed software, while using a group policy to disallow unknown legacy applications.”

Let us buy a copy without a PC

Adam Banks, editor of MacUser: “As a long-time Mac user, I don’t use Windows more than I have to, but I don’t particularly mind if I do have to – and Macs can run it natively with a leg up from Apple’s Boot Camp software. After I bought my latest Mac, I went shopping for a copy of Windows 8 to install as a second OS – and that brings me to what ought to be different with Windows 9.

“It seems there’s an upgrade version of Windows 8, which is available only as an upgrade, and a full version – which is available only as an upgrade. It took me quite some time to get my head round this. After I finally stopped scrolling plaintively through version listings, I Googled and found a page buried in Microsoft’s OEM Partner Center that told me I could legally use a ‘Personal Use Licence’ to install an ‘OEM System Builder’ version on ‘a MAC’ [sic]. With this faux acronym, Microsoft, you are really trolling us.
“Unfortunately, the page didn’t actually offer to sell me anything. Clicking ‘Can I purchase OEM System Builder software?’ produced the single-word answer: ‘yes’. I could download something called the ‘Windows ADK’, but I had to Google what that was.

“Eventually I found an OEM copy on Amazon for an only mildly eye-watering £85, which included no support – because if you’re a Mac user, or building your own PC, obviously you don’t deserve any help. Fortunately, installation was a breeze. But why make it so difficult to buy a standalone copy, Microsoft? We’re all friends here, after all.”

Start screen that scrolls… up and down

Jack Schofield, journalist: “I’m very happy using the Start screen on a touch tablet such as the Surface Pro, and I appreciate that it scales well. However, I’m ergonomically welded to a desktop PC with a big screen and a mouse, and I’d like the option to use it in a more traditional way. First, I’d like to be able to open the Start screen in a window on the desktop. Please don’t feel obliged to attach it to the Start button – that would be like bringing back the Start menu.

“Second, I’d like that window to have standard vertical scroll bars, so I can scroll up and down with the mouse wheel – just like any other program window, including DOS boxes. Tiles don’t have to scroll sideways. The tiles in Windows Phone 8 have always scrolled up and down, and that’s how I scroll.”

Windows slider

Set it free

Jon Honeyball, Real World Computing columnist: “Make Windows 9 free for home users. If Microsoft is going to get people to move from XP, then there needs to be a compelling upgrade path. If it’s going to compete in the home environment with Android and iOS, then Windows has to be free.

“Companies will still pay for the licensing and the ability to have all the professional services, such as Active Directory domains, full remote management and so forth, and they’ll keep paying through the rolling licensing plans. But it’s time for the new CEO to bite the bullet and for Microsoft to put its money where its mouth is: Windows 9 Home should be free to download, free to install and free to use.

Free update

“But, here’s the kicker: Microsoft should mandate upgrading and updating. Microsoft has to get Windows home users to follow the same upgrade path as iOS users if it’s to have any hope of getting a platform that’s rich and coherent. This requires the majority of users to move to the new platform when it arrives. This is easy to do – just make updating and free upgrading mandatory. Then Microsoft will avoid repeating the nightmare of a large XP population in the future.

“I dare Microsoft to do it. Best of all, it could do this within a month of now if it wanted to.”

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